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Hacking controversy from early 2000s resurfaces during Kavanaugh hearings

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh about documents shared with him from former GOP Senate staffer Manny Miranda. (Video: Reuters)

Manuel Miranda was in bed Wednesday morning, suffering from a kidney stone, when he heard his name invoked as a key player during the televised hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

As Miranda listened, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) suggested that he played a key role in an event that raised new questions about Kavanaugh’s credibility.

Miranda, the former Republican counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was involved in an infamous episode around 2002 in which he gained computer access to records stored by Democrats on the panel. Kavanaugh was associate counsel at the White House at the time, working on judicial nominations.

Leahy has repeatedly asked at prior confirmation hearings whether Kavanaugh received information that Miranda got from the Democratic files. Leahy said in a statement Wednesday that Miranda and another staffer were behind what he called the hacking of 4,670 computer files and used them “to assist in getting President Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees confirmed.” He said Kavanaugh “worked hand in hand with Miranda” to help nominees win confirmation.

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Kavanaugh has consistently denied that he knew anything about Miranda’s access to the files. Asked Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) whether he ever knew he was dealing with stolen property, Kavanaugh responded, “No.”

Leahy, however, on Wednesday cited emails that have been made public only in recent days that he said suggested that Kavanaugh may have known more than he previously acknowledged about Miranda’s information.

In an email on July 30, 2002, Miranda wrote Kavanaugh that he wanted to give him and another White House official “some info” related to an upcoming nomination hearing. Kavanaugh responded that he could talk on the phone at 12:15 p.m. that day. It is not clear from the documents what was discussed in the phone call, if it occurred, or whether any information from Miranda’s access to Democratic documents was involved.

Separately, Miranda emailed Kavanaugh and another White House official that “intel suggests that Leahy will focus on all things money” at a 2002 confirmation hearing.

Leahy said at Wednesday’s hearing that he hoped more documents would be released Thursday that would provide clarity about whether Miranda gave Kavanaugh information based on the Democrats’ documents.

Miranda, in a telephone interview, said that he worked “closely” with Kavanaugh on nominations. He said that he is not sure whether he ever shared any information that he gleaned from the Democrats’ documents. But if he did, he said, he never told Kavanaugh how he had gained access to them.

“I never told him that I got this from the Democrats. There was never anything like that,” Miranda said. “I can tell you for a fact that Brett didn’t know, because no one knew” aside from some other staffers.

Miranda said that he gained access to the documents after a junior staffer on the committee discovered that they were posted on a server shared by Republicans. He acknowledged reading many of the documents and said he mainly used them to glean insights into how Democrats were preparing for hearings.

A congressional report blamed Miranda and another staffer for viewing the documents, and Miranda resigned from a Senate position in 2004. He said in the interview that he was never charged in the matter and that he never it considered his action to be hacking, because the documents were on a shared computer server.

Miranda, a lawyer who lives in Maryland, said that he had never realized until this week that Leahy and other Democrats had raised questions at prior confirmation hearings about whether he had given information to Kavanaugh based on the documents.

Then, on Wednesday, he was at home in bed and turned on the hearings held by the committee that once employed him. He said no one from the committee, Democrat or Republican, had contacted him to hear his side of the story. While he said he had no inkling his name would come up at the hearing, he said it was not entirely unexpected given that Democrats have for years complained about his access to the documents.

“I certainly didn’t like it, but I wasn’t shocked,” Miranda said.

Leahy, meanwhile, urged Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to release every document that may “shed light on Judge Kavanaugh’s relationship with Miranda. They need to be made public now, before it’s too late.”

Alice Crites and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.